I know some will say this should be a fanshot, but I think it's important. What is discussed below highlights one of the ways in which the NBA lockout greatly differs from the NFL lockout. The NBA, unlike the NFL, is positioned as more of a global brand - that is, more people follow basketball around the world than do American football. An unspoken subtext of this lockout is precisely what is the status of the NBA as a global league, and where do all the current players fit in that structure (compensation-wise or otherwise)? Is the league truly headed towards trying to be the pre-eminent basketball league in the world? I kind of think so, but I'm not sure exactly what that means for owners or players. At any rate, I think this subtext is extremely important to understanding at least David Stern's interests in the lockout: he wants the NBA to the THE basketball league in the world, the place where the best players, coaches, and athletes showcase the game.
What do you think?
Damage to the NBA brand
A couple days ago on Twitter, David Thorpe asked: "How's it gonna look when NBA players playing overseas get sent home because they are just not worth what they were being paid?"
Since then, DeJuan Blair -- a starter on one of the league's best teams in San Antonio -- was let go by his Russian team.
It's not that Blair didn't play well. His numbers were solid. It's also not that he has a big attitude -- quite the opposite.
The problem appears to have been simply that they could get similar production for less from any number of other players. He was good, but the amount they paid him, in that league, is reserved for greatness.
Thorpe has long maintained that the very best NBA players are in a class by themselves. No other league in the world has players like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. But after those top stars, whether that's 30 or 40 players, he says it's very hard to tell anyone apart. The non-star NBA players, he says, are interchangeable with professionals all over the globe, which he sees in his own gym every summer, where, for instance, Italian Serie A starters hang comfortably with NBA rotation players.
Meanwhile, consider soccer's English Premiership, which includes some of the most valuable global sports franchises like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Strictly because that league, and those teams, are seen as the best in the world, they are well-positioned to become not just England's favorite teams, but the world's favorite teams. They don't just play London, they play New York and Tokyo, too -- and when they get there they find fans wearing their players' jerseys and chanting their team chants.
Those teams pay like crazy for the most expensive talent in the world, and that talent gives them a shot at developing lucrative global audiences.
The NBA has a similar opportunity. Will sports fans in China, India and Brazil insist on NBA basketball on their televisions? Will they buy expensive official NBA merchandise?
If they are convinced it's far and away the best basketball league in the world they will. But the perception that the NBA is in a class by itself ... it's damaged just a little in Russia today when Blair is sent packing. And it's entirely possible that we'll see more of the same in other countries, which could hurt the NBA's ability to present itself as head-and-shoulders above the rest of the globe.